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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2008) Headlines (10/2008) Headlines (02/2009)   Vol. 42 December 2008 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the December 2008 edition of W&ET Magazine


Miners in the southern African kingdom of Lesotho have found one of the world's largest diamonds, a near-flawless white gem weighing nearly 500 carats, mining group Gem Diamonds said recently.

The diamond was discovered in the Letseng Mine, the company said in a statement. It has been analyzed by experts in Antwerp and found to weigh 478 carats, with very few inclusions and of outstanding color and clarity.

"It has the potential to yield one of the largest flawless D color round polished diamonds in history," the company said.

Letseng is one of the most productive mines in history- four of the world's 20 largest rough diamonds have been found at the mine, including the three largest found this century.

Before it is cut into gems it is hard to value the diamond, but a spokesman for Gem Diamonds said a similar weight stone with lesser-quality color and clarity had recently sold for $12 million (around 5.5 million pounds).

"Preliminary examination of this remarkable diamond indicates that it will yield a record breaking polished stone of the very best color and clarity," Clifford Elphick, the chief executive of Gem Diamonds, said in a statement.

The minister for natural resources in Lesotho, an impoverished mountain kingdom in eastern South Africa, praised the productivity of the mine, one of the highest in the world at more than 3,000 meters (10,000 feet).

"Once again Letseng has proved its ability to produce extraordinary diamonds and continues to place Lesotho at the forefront of diamond producing countries," Monyane Moleleki said in a statement.

Letseng is 70 percent owned by Gem Diamonds and 30 percent owned by the government of Lesotho.

The world's largest diamond is the Cullinan, discovered in South Africa in 1905. It weighed more than 3,100 carats before it was cut into more than one hundred separate gems, many of which are part of the British crown jewels.

From many publications, submitted by numerous readers.


Archaeologists are racing against the little time left to salvage a fortune in coins and items from a 500-year-old Portuguese shipwreck found recently off Namibia's rough southern coast.

Despite its importance, the project, in a restricted diamond mining area, is itself costing a fortune in sea-walling that cannot be sustained after October 10.

"The vast amounts of gold coins would possibly make this discovery the largest one in Africa outside Egypt," said Francisco Alves, a Lisbon-based maritime archaeologist.

"This vessel is the best preserved of its time outside Portugal," he said.

"But the cultural uniqueness of this find is priceless."

Alves is part of a multi-national team combing the seabed where the wreck was discovered six months ago.

The 16th century "Portuguese trade vessel was found by chance this April as mine workers created an artificial sand wall with bulldozers to push back the sea for diamond dredging," Namibian archaeologist Dieter Noli told reporters invited to view the site.

"One of them noticed an unusual wooden structure and round stones, which turned out to be cannon balls," he said.

The abundance of objects unearthed where the ship ran aground along Namibia's notorious Skeleton coast, where hundreds of vessels were wrecked over the centuries, has amazed even hardened experts.

Six bronze cannons, several tons of copper, huge elephant tusks, pewter tableware, navigational instruments, and a variety of weapons including swords, sabres and knives have all been tugged out of the beach sand.

"Over 2,300 gold coins weighing some 21 kilograms (46 pounds) and 1.5 kilograms of silver coins were found- worth over 100 million dollars," Alves said, adding that the ship's contents suggest it was bound for India or somewhere in Asia.

"About 70 per cent of the gold coins are Spanish, the rest Portuguese," Alves said. Precise dating was possible thanks to examination of the coin rims that showed "some of them were minted in October 1525 in Portugal."

About 13 tons of copper ingots, eight tons of tin and over 50 large ivory elephant tusks together weighing some 600 kilograms have also been excavated from the seabed.

"The copper ingots are all marked with a trident indent, which was used by Germany's famous Fugger family of traders and bankers in Augsburg, who delivered to the Portuguese five centuries ago," said South African archaeologist Bruno Werz.

The team also includes experts from the United States and Zimbabwe, and the salvation efforts were made possible by the erection of sea walls to keep back the fierce Atlantic surf.

Namibia's culture ministry and Namdeb, the state diamond mining company, have shared the enormous expense, which "costs some 100,000 Namibian dollars (12,500 U.S. dollars, 8,500 euros) per day," according to Peingeondjabi Shipoh, the culture ministry expert in charge of the recovery project.

But that is shortly coming to an end, even though "I believe there is still more to be found," he told reporters.

"From October 10, the walls will not be maintained anymore and the ship's remnants left to the elements again."

At one point it was thought the wreck was that of legendary Portuguese explorer Bartolomeo Diaz, the first known European to sail around the southern tip of Africa in 1488.

In line with the custom of Portuguese explorers of the time, Diaz left a huge stone cross to the glory of his country's king, called a "padrao," that same year at what is today's harbor town of Luderitz, which Diaz baptized Angra Pequena or "small cove," 750 kilometers (465 miles) southwest of the capital Windhoek.

Around 1500, he and his sailing vessel went missing and were never found.

But hope that the Oranjemund find might end the mystery was laid to rest when it was established that the coins on the shipwreck were put into circulation 25 years after Diaz' disappearance.

Under international maritime laws, a wreck and its treasures belong to the country where they were found, and all the coins are now locked in the vaults of the Bank of Namibia in Windhoek.

The government said it plans at some point to mount an exhibition of the findings and later erect a special museum in Oranjemund to house the incredible collection.

From many publications, submitted by numerous readers.


Archaeologists have found the bust of pharaoh Ramses II in Egypt's Nile Delta, Culture Minister Faruq Hosni said recently, bringing experts closer to finding a temple belonging to the king.

The red granite bust, which formed part of a colossal statue of the king, was found during routine excavations in the Tell Basta area, 50 miles north of Cairo in the Nile Delta, Hosni said in a statement.

"The head is around 30 inches, the nose is broken, and the false beard that was once attached to the king's chin is missing," Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities director Zahi Hawass said.

"The discovery is important because it may indicate that the excavators are close to the ruins of a major temple of Ramses II in the area," Hawass said.

Tell Basta is going through a major development plan, according to Egyptian officials, who say that a museum and a visitor's center are currently under construction in the area.

Ramses II reigned over Egypt for about 68 years, from 1304 to 1237 B.C., and is believed to have lived to the age of 90.

He covered the country with monuments to his exploits. His mummy, on display in Cairo's National Museum, is one of the country's biggest tourist attractions.

From the Associated Press, submitted by Jeff Kehl, Avon, MN.


Archaeologists will excavate hundreds of fragments of an ancient Egyptian wooden boat entombed in an underground chamber next to Giza's Great Pyramid and try to reassemble the craft, Egyptologists announced recently.

The 4,500-year-old vessel is the sister ship of a similar boat removed in pieces from another pit in 1954 and painstakingly reconstructed. Experts believe the boats were meant to ferry the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid in the afterlife.

Recently tourists were allowed to view images of the inside of the second boat pit from a camera inserted through a hole in the chamber's limestone ceiling. The video image, transmitted onto a small TV monitor at the site, showed layers of crisscrossing beams and planks on the floor of the dark pit.

"You can smell the past," said Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Experts will begin removing around 600 pieces of timber in November, said professor Sakuji Yoshimura of Japan's Waseda University, who is helping lead the restoration effort with the antiquities council.

The discovery of the boat pits more than 50 years ago by workmen clearing a large mound of wind-blown debris from the south side of the Great Pyramid is considered one of the most significant finds on the plateau. They are the oldest vessels to have survived from antiquity.

The reconstructed ship is on display in a museum built above the pit where it was discovered. It is a narrow vessel measuring 142 feet with a rectangular deckhouse and long, interlocking oars that soar overhead.

The cedar timbers of its curved hull are lashed together with hemp rope in a technique used until recent times by traditional shipbuilders along the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

The unexcavated boat, made from Lebanese cedar and Egyptian acacia trees, is thought to be of similar design, but smaller and less well preserved.

John Darnell, an Egyptologist at Yale University, said new research into the second boat could fill in some blanks about the significance of the vessels and help determine whether they ever actually plied Nile River waterways or were of purely spiritual import.

"In Egypt, almost everything read had its counterpart meaning or significance in the spiritual world. But there's a lot of debate as to whether these vessels ever were used or not," Darnell said.

Those who argue the vessels may have touched water point to rope marks on the wood that could have been caused by the rope becoming wet and then shrinking as it dried.

But Hawass believes these were symbolic vessels, not funerary boats used to bring the pharaoh Khufu's embalmed remains up the Nile from the ancient capital of Memphis for burial in the Great Pyramid, the oldest and largest of Giza's pyramids.

He said solar symbols found inside the second pit offer more evidence that those who disassembled and buried the boats believed Khufu's soul would travel from his tomb in the pyramid through a connecting air shaft to the boat chambers and that he would use the boats to circle the heavens, like the sun god, taking one boat by day and the other by night.

From The Associated Press, submitted by Jeff Kehl, Avon, MN.


A small part of Plattsburgh was shut down recently while police tried to secure a Civil War era bomb.

The Battle of Plattsburgh Association brought the cannonball to the police station around 2 p.m. when it discovered the fuse was still intact, making it potentially explosive. Police secured the cannonball and it will be destroyed by bomb experts.

"We took a look at it and sought assistance from the emergency removal team at Camp Johnson in Vermont. Pictures were taken and e-mailed to them. They determined while it could do damage, it was safe to move," Plattsburgh Police Cpl. Brad Kiroy explained.

Activities at the Stafford Middle School and traffic on Pine Street were diverted for about an hour.

Submitted by Andrew Burrows, Ogdensburg, NY.


When the waves from Hurricane Ike receded, they left behind a mystery- a ragged shipwreck that archaeologists say could be a two-masted Civil War schooner that ran aground in 1862 or another ship from some 70 years later. The wreck, about six miles from Fort Morgan, had already been partially uncovered when Hurricane Camille cleared away sand in 1969.

Researchers at the time identified it as the Monticello, a battleship that partially burned when it crashed trying to get past the U.S. Navy and into Mobile Bay during the Civil War.

After examining photos of the wreck post-Ike, Museum of Mobile marine archaeologist Shea McLean agreed it is likely the Monticello, which ran aground in 1862 after sailing from Havana, according to Navy records.

"Based on what we know of ships lost in that area and what I've seen, the Monticello is by far the most likely candidate," McLean said. "You can never be 100 percent certain unless you find the bell with 'Monticello' on it, but this definitely fits."

Other clues indicate it could be an early 20th century schooner that ran aground on the Alabama coast in 1933.

The wrecked ship is 136.9 feet long and 25 feet wide, according to Mike Bailey, site curator at Fort Morgan, who examined it this week. The Monticello was listed in shipping records as 136 feet long, McLean told the Press-Register of Mobile.

But Bailey said a 2000 report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined the remains were the schooner Rachel, built at Moss Point, Mississippi, in 1919 and wrecked near Fort Morgan in 1933.

He said the wreckage appears to have components, such as steel cables, that would point to the Rachel rather than an 1860s schooner.

Glenn Forest, another archaeologist who examined the wreck, said a full identification would require an excavation.

"It's a valuable artifact," he said. "They need to get this thing inside before it falls apart or another storm comes along and sends it through those houses there like a bowling ball."

Meanwhile, curious beach-goers have been drawn to the remains of the wooden hull filled with rusted iron fittings. Fort Morgan was used by Confederate soldiers as Union forces attacked in 1864 during the Battle of Mobile Bay.

"It's interesting, I can tell you that," said Terri Williams. "I've lived down here most of my life and I've never seen anything like this, and it's been right here."

From The Charlotte Observer, submitted by David Wolan, Charlotte, NC, Ben Myers, Elizabethtown, PA, and Danny Atch


Lost in the rocky, remote Australian Outback, a former pest exterminator faced dehydration and death. Desperate for food, police said that he turned to what he knew best: bugs.

Theo Rosmolder, 52, survived for four days by feasting on termites and other insects before local Aborigines happened upon him and brought him back to civilization.

He was suffering from dehydration but otherwise in "surprisingly good condition," western Australia state police Sgt. Graham Clifford told the Associated Press.

Clifford said the insects and termites provided Rosmolder a bit of moisture and some protein.

"He kept eating what he used to kill," Clifford said.

Rosmolder had been searching for gold with his wife and a group of other prospectors about 80 miles north of Laverton, a mining town in southwestern Australia, police said.

He became lost after heading out alone, armed only with a pocketknife, flashlight and a metal detector, Clifford said. His prospecting group called police after he failed to return to camp.

Police launched a large search operation at first light with dozens of searchers combing 77 square miles of the rocky desert terrain by land and air.

Members of a local Aboriginal community spotted Rosmolder about 6 miles from his camp.

Rosmolder was treated at a hospital and released the same day, authorities said.

From The Arizona Republic, submitted by Vic Mathis, Tempe, AZ.


A pair of Queen Victoria's stockings has sold for $14,300.

The Ruddington Framework Knitters' Museum in Nottingham placed the high bid for the black and white stockings at auction.

The stockings were sold by Mary Youings of Ripley, who had inherited them from her mother.

She says she doesn't know how the stockings, which bear the royal crest, came into her family's possession.

From The Chicago Sun Times, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.


A 2,100-year-old bronze-and-iron astronomical computer that predicted eclipses and other astronomical events also showed the cycle of the Greek Olympics and the related games that led up to the Games, researchers report.

The researchers have also been able to decipher all the month names from the heavily corroded fragments of the Antikythera mechanism, providing the first concrete evidence that an astronomical plan devised by the Greek astronomer Geminos was put to practical use.

Teasing out the month names was a "really spectacular achievement," said science historian Francois Charette of Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.

Historians "had until now doubted that this scheme had actually been used in civil life, but he evidence from the Antikythera mechanism now proves them wrong," said Charette, who was not involved in the research.

The inclusion of the data about the Olympic Games on what is now called Olympiad Dial of the clocklike mechanism was a surprise to the researchers because the dates of the ancient Olympics, held every fourth summer from 776 B.C. to A.D. 393, would have been well known to the populace, just as the time of the modern Olympics is now.

"The inclusion of the Olympiad Dial says more about the cultural importance of the Games than about their advanced technology," said Tony Freeth of Images First Ltd., in London, and a member of the research team that will report the results in the journal Nature.

The Antikythera mechanism, so named because it was found in 1901 in a Roman shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, is thought to have been made about 100 B.C.

Its purpose was a mystery for more than 100 years, but in 2006, researchers used a massive X-ray tomography machine to scan and examine the heavily encrusted fragments.

They concluded the device originally contained 37 gears that formed an astronomical computer. Two dials on the front show the zodiac and a calendar with the days of the year that can be adjusted for leap years. Metal pointers show the positions in the zodiac of the sun, moon and five planets known in antiquity. Two spiral dials on the back show the cycles of the moon and predict eclipses.

Using more powerful computers to analyze the data, Freeth and his colleagues, all affiliated with the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project in Cardiff, Wales, were able to decipher the names of all 12 months, as well as identify several Greek games.

The month names indicate the device was most likely not from Rhodes, as originally thought, but from Corinth or one of its colonies such as Syracuse- home of the famed astronomer Archimedes, who lived a century before the device was made. Seven of the month names had a possible link to Syracuse.

The Metonic calendar that was used had months that averaged 30 days, with one day omitted every 64th day in order to have the correct average month length over the entire Metonic cycle of 19 years.

The key to the Olympiad Dial was the discovery of the words "NEMEA," "ISTHMIA," "PYTHIA" and "OLYMPIA."

The first reference is to the Nemean Games, one of the events that were part of the four-year cycles that culminated with the Olympics. Isthmia represented the games at Corinth, Pythia those at Delphi, and Olympia the Olympics themselves.

From The Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL, Bill Ladd, and Jeff Kehl.

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